2021 Summer Solstice

Photo by Suzana Cooper

Happy Summer Solstice! Do you love this time of year or dread the heat? The sun is the source of all life as its heat and light provide the energy for plants to grow so we have food to eat. Since ancient times, yogis have offered gratitude for the sun’s life-giving qualities, through sun salutations, surya namaskar, and even singing or chanting the Gayatri mantra. Yoga’s sister science of life, Ayurveda, considers the heat of summer the Pitta time of year and offers suggestions to help keep you cool and make the most of the long, leisurely, sunny days ahead. Here are a few to keep in mind.

Stay hydrated – the extra heat of the summer dries up the plants and things in nature, as well as our own bodies. It is extra important to drink plenty of water, the measure is to drink half your body’s weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds then drink 70 ounces of water per day. Add a little splash of lime for its extra cooling properties.

Enjoy cooling foods – cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, asparagus, avocado, coconut, cilantro, blueberries, parsley, lettuces, alfalfa sprouts. The foods that are in plenty this time of year are great food choices for summer. They help to cool the body from the inside. 

Avoid extra spicy foods as they can have a heating effect on the body and lead to Pitta-type imbalances such as acid indigestion, skin rashes, and inflammation.

Exercise in the morning to enjoy the relative coolness of the morning sun while avoiding the more extreme midday heat. Swimming or other water sports are a great way to keep cool.

Apply a few drops of essential oil such as jasmine, rose, or sandalwood to the point between the eyebrows to encourage a calm mind and nervous system. The throat and the navel are other places that can get overheated, so a few drops there can be helpful too.

Try turning off all electronics an hour before bedtime and enjoy reading an actual physical book or stargazing. This is a great way to settle busy, overheated thoughts and prepare yourself for a sound sleep.

And of course, cooling yoga poses can help combat the heat of summer. Try a forward bending pose slowly and with full breaths, keeping a long spine as you hinge from your hips. Or, legs up the wall pose is a great one to practice anytime of day for its calming, cooling effects.

See you on the mat! 

Warmly (but not too hot),

Kelly

Happy Earth Day 2021

Happy Earth Day! This is the only planet we’ve got. Earth is our home. We should treat Her like we treat our own homes, as in loving and caring for the planet in the same way we would repair the roof, gutters, or windows, keep the insides clean, and ensure the pipes work without leaking. There are many ways to contribute to the healthy functioning of our planet and here are a few suggestions for this year:

For more suggestions, you could check this website: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-tips/ and thank you for caring!

–Kelly

French Lentil Dal for Spring

Spring is getting closer. Vaccines are becoming more abundant. I am in the mood to move! To help clear out the lethargy and stagnation of wintertime, Ayurveda recommends eating more bitter greens, spring vegetables, light grains, pulses and berries.  Nature is beginning to offer an abundance of bitter greens like arugula, kale, beet greens, bok choy, dandelion, and collards.  Other vegetables that help to clear the dampness of spring include asparagus, brussels sprouts, fennel, onions, garlic, green beans, and sprouts.  Light grains, such as millet, basmati rice, and quinoa assist in the clearing of mucus and excess water in the body.  Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, adzuki beans, and black beans have a drying effect on the body.  Berries, once they come into season, have a cleansing effect on the liver and also help to remove excess sludge from winter. Try this yummy recipe to help you lighten up for springtime.

French Lentil Dal

1 c French lentils soaked overnight

4 c water

1-2 Tablespoons ghee

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 inch fresh ginger, chopped

1/2 c chopped sweet onion, spring onion, or leeks

1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric powder (or 1/2 inch chopped fresh turmeric)

pinch asafoetida (also called hing, has a taste similar to garlic)

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

salt and pepper to taste

After soaking the lentils overnight, drain and add 4 c fresh water for cooking.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer for about 1 hour or until lentils are soft.

In a separate skillet, heat ghee over low-medium heat.  Add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds, ginger and onion to the ghee.  Saute until onions are transparent.

Add this mixture to the cooked lentils.

Add the turmeric, asafoetida, maple syrup, prepared mustard, salt and pepper.

Stir and let simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.

Enjoy with steamed or sauteed veggies and white basmati rice.

Tide Changes

We are about to reach the one-year anniversary of living with Covid19 in isolation. Normally at this time of year I would be preparing for our annual journey to India (See photos from past trips here and here) but this year is quite different. This year has seen so many changes in life, death, and lifestyle. I hope that yoga practice has brought you some comfort in this past year.

For myself there have been ups and downs. Transitioning to teaching yoga classes online was certainly challenging, but I was also able to complete an idea that had been brewing for a long time, my first online course. When the pandemic began, Wildflower Yoga started offering monthly Yoga Nidra to benefit various social justice causes. We raised a total of $8,272 last year! Our Benefit last week will add another $660 to that total. 100% of all proceeds go directly to the non-profit organizations; no funds were held back. If those were “up’s,” then a down would be that the physical space in which we were holding class is no longer available. The ups and downs are both waves in the ocean, eventually one settles and the other rises up. With yoga practice we learn to dive deep into the ocean and move beyond the surface push and pull to be able to observe life’s challenges from an objective place — with any luck, from a more harmonious place. We begin to recognize changes as different phases, different tides within the same ocean of consciousness.

My colleague, teacher, and friend Kathy Donnelly has been talking about community a lot lately and I agree with her that our community of like-minded souls is an important part of surviving the pandemic with a level head. It is great solace to me each time I see your faces in class. The effort it takes to bring peace and well-being to your own body-mind-heart really inspires me. Who knows how much longer this social distancing needs to be in place — I have always thought it should be called physical distancing, not “social” distancing — but I am thankful for each of you and for your effort to support your own good health. Let’s continue building community together by practicing together, and even on your own at home; home practice is an important part of yoga where you can really explore the poses and how they feel in your body. If I can be a small part of your yoga journey, for that I am truly thankful.

Child’s Pose Is My New BFF

As mentioned in my previous newsletter, during this pandemic I have been dealing with a different health issue, hyperparathyroidism. The surgeon had to make an incision at the base of my throat to remove the “offending gland.” With that surgery behind me, I was able to get to the task of healing. It took a week before I really felt like moving again, I even had to support my head with my hand as I would transition from sitting to lying down for example. Once I felt stronger and ready to move, I really wanted to do some yoga! Practice was slow at first, with lots of full breaths and no hurrying. It involved much stretching and breathing from a seated position. And then, Child’s Pose, Balasana. I would bring big toes together and take my knees wider, fold forward from the hips and rest my forehead on my stacked hands.

Pre-surgery, balasana was a resting pose for me, but post-surgery it became respite; in Yoga Nidra terms, it became my Inner Resource. If you know anything about fascia, you know that if there is an injury or trauma in one part of the body, it can affect the rest of the body in a three-dimensional matrix. Because my neck was intensely healing, the rest of my muscles felt compressed, pulled toward the incision like covered wagons in a circle to protect the precious humans inside. Child’s pose helped those muscles to lengthen again; the sweet release of elongating my spinal extensors was better than a hot bath. The gentle opening through hip muscles was like my body exhaling, gently easing back to a state of normalcy. These inner sensations helped to remind me that all is well and on the path to healing, it just takes time and patience.

If you are feeling out of sorts, please make time in your day for a “yoga snack” and take balasana for several deep breaths — as many as you need until you feel your nervous system settle and you return to a state of calm.

Slow and Steady On

In case you missed it, I recently had parathyroidectomy surgery. This was an important surgery to make sure my parathyroid continues to function properly and maintain the acceptable range of calcium in my blood and not leach it out of my bones. On the surface, I never really felt badly, I just had a pain in my side that led me to my PCP last fall which was when I had the routine blood test that turned up this issue. The news was a bit shocking to me to say the least. My idea of a healthy lifestyle had not made me immune from this particular health issue. Now that I’ve had a few months to live with the condition and actually do something about it, I have the benefit of hindsight and let me tell you, I am so very thankful for my yoga training.

Preparing for surgery can be very anxiety-provoking. In the weeks leading up to my surgery and especially the few days prior, I made sure to take time for myself, to move my body in yoga postures and breathe fully in order to oxygenate my blood and ensure a maximum infusion of prana, vital life force, before being cut into. I even gave myself a steady diet of fresh vegetable juices including carrots, apples, celery and ginger to make sure I was taking in prana through my food as well.

On the morning of surgery, I had to be at the hospital by 5am. Breathing practices, pranayama, sustained me in that moment. Each time I felt fear or anxiety creeping up, I would return to long, slow, smooth inhales and exhales through my nose in order to remain as calm as possible beforehand. After surgery, I slept a lot. When I finally felt ready to begin moving again, I looked forward to returning to a gentle yoga practice. This was an interesting experience, because the feeling of the poses and my practice was very different. Whereas before I may have begun with some sun salutations and then stronger standing poses or backbends (my favorites), now I had to really pay attention to my body. I still did not have much range of motion in my neck and did not want to push things. Being forced to slow down was truly a practice of embodiment. Instead of returning immediately to a strong practice, I would sit on my mat, breathe, and feel. What do I truly need today? What would serve my current body most effectively? There is much to be learned from slowing down and paying attention. We can all benefit from the lessons of yoga to carry us through the challenging times as much as through the good times. And I would argue, we’ve all been through and perhaps are still in extremely challenging times right now. Slow and steady on.

Winter Inspiration

Winter is a time for rest, rejuvenation, and renewal. You may or may not agree with me, but I love the snow. Especially when I do not have to go anywhere, the snow just blankets the earth with quiet and to see the sparkle of the snowflakes reflecting the sun once the storm has passed, it just makes me want to exhale fully into a state of joyous relaxation. We may not get that lucky this year to see a beautiful snowfall, but I’m still hoping.

Here’s an idea — I hope that even during these cold temperatures you have been able to at least get outdoors to take some walks. Along your way, choose a spot that you can return to each day or each week to simply stop for a moment and view; take in your surroundings. When you return to the same spot over a period of time, you can really observe the changes in nature, from winter’s stark barrenness — there is a beauty to the stillness — to the first buds of the spring time. Your “viewing spot” can help you observe the transition from the hibernation of inner life to a vibrant outer life as spring shows its signs of approaching. We’ve still months to go, but taking time to observe the here and now in each moment can be a great practice in present moment awareness and even in cultivating gratitude regarding the gifts and things we have to celebrate. Keeping some sort of daily routine, be it regular walks, a time for reading, or yoga practice, can be a rejuvenating habit that supports you for years to come.

Gratitude

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity…. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

–Melody Beattie

It has been a year like no other, but I have been moved by the determination and dedication of each of you during this year of challenges. As a teacher, I learn so much from you, my students, and that is what makes teaching yoga so rewarding. Seeing the greatness in the little triumphs — like holding Tree Pose for just a little longer or moving deeper into the breath because of a backbend — has kept me going. The Yoga Nidra Benefits this year were a spontaneous idea that became something to look forward to each month during this time of social distancing, and together we have raised over $7,000 for important social justice causes. I thank you for that! May the peace and comfort of the season be with you, may you recognize the small miracles each day, and may we all look forward to a new year of hope, compassion, and kindness for others and for ourselves.

Diwali

Happy Diwali! May peace, abundance, and the light of conscious awareness surround you at this time of year. In India, this festival of light is equivalent to our Christmas and New Years wrapped into one. It is a time of celebration for all of which we are thankful. The daylight is getting shorter and the nights are longer, but that just encourages the inner light of awareness and awakening to shine more brightly. Diwali is traditionally celebrated with ritual known as puja for a variety of deities, one of whom is Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, beauty, prosperity, and well being. People will light many clay candles around their homes and feast. Next week you may feast on some free yoga classes, courtesy of the Retreat Center of Maryland (RCM). See below for more details. There will not be a Yoga Nidra Benefit this month because I am offering a free meditation for RCM on Nov 19 at noon. Please join me or any of the great teachers in a week of gratitude as we move toward our holiday season. (It feels like we have something to celebrate right now, doesn’t it?)

Quiet Celebration for Fall

Mmm. Fall is here and I usually greet it with a little apprehension because I know that winter will follow. The funny thing is, September is probably the most beautiful weather-wise and October brings the brilliant leaf color as the trees succumb to the changes. There is plenty to celebrate in nature even if our ‘leaders’ might seem to be failing us right now. Life seems to be a continual balance between making effort to change what I do not want and letting go of the need to be in control of things to get what I do want.

Yoga teaches that very thing. We need to make effort to express ourselves through a yoga posture, but at the same time, we need to allow for things to unfold in their own time. If we want to do a handstand or hold Warrior III with elegance for example, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. If we want to touch our toes with ease, we must put forth the effort. Sthiram sukham asanam, a yoga posture is steady and comfortable, Patanjali says in Yoga Sutra 2:46, but that is not generally true at first; we must put forth the effort.

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